Lesson 1: Introduction to Civil Law


Introduction to Civil Law

  1. Divide the class into five groups. Write the names of five types of civil law on slips of paper and have a student from each group pick a slip of paper. It is their task to write a scenario about the civil law category they chose with at least four questions. Each group could present its scenario orally to the rest of the class and have the rest of the students offer answers to the questions. One student could be the judge, who would decide for or against the plaintiff after hearing the arguments.
  2. Look in the business section of the newspaper or online to see the list of civil business suits listed. Describe three cases noting the problem, the parties, and how much is being claimed. Report your findings orally to the class.

Comparing Civil Law to Criminal Law

  1. Research on the Internet the civil case of O.J. Simpson in California, USA. Identify the parties involved and what the claim was as well as what the result was. Indicate if the decision was different or similar to the acquittal in the criminal case.
  2. Research criminal and civil laws in another country - perhaps your birthplace or that of your parents or grandparents. Write a short paragraph comparing and contrasting that system to the Canadian system. Present it orally or in written form.

Law of Negligence

Scenario A: A Falling Branch

You are walking to school and you notice the partially broken branch of a tree dangling over the sidewalk across the street. A pedestrian is approaching the tree but you don’t warn him about the branch. The branch falls and injures the pedestrian.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Does the law impose a duty upon you to warn the pedestrian?
  2. Would it make any difference if you were the owner of the land that the tree was on and you were aware of the hanging branch?
  3. In question 2, suppose that you were at work when the branch cracked and that it fell on the pedestrian just minutes later. Would your legitimate lack of knowledge protect you from liability?
  4. Should property owners be held strictly liable for all dangerous situations on or arising from their property which cause injury or damage?
  5. Most people accept that it is morally right to help others when they are in trouble. Why do you think the courts have not made that moral obligation a legal duty as well?

Scenario B: The Olympic Athlete

Millie Miler is a top-ranked distance runner on the world scene. She exudes wholesomeness and good health and in the past has overcome extreme physical adversity to reach the top. As a result she is somewhat of a hero and public figure in Canada and to a lesser extent, around the world. Also, as a result of her efforts, Millie has several lucrative endorsement contracts with athletic wear, soft drinks, and others.

All of the endorsement contracts she has signed contain a provision that if Millie ever tests positive for a banned substance during competition, then the company would have the option of termination the contracts at once.

In the recent Pan-Am Games, Millie ran individually in the 1500 metre race and she also ran the anchor leg on the 5000 metre relay team. She won gold medals in both events.

Two days prior to the first of her races, the relay, Millie developed a cough which naturally interfered with her breathing and her overall health. She therefore bought an over-the-counter cough remedy.

Millie was aware of the possibility that even seemingly innocent enough drugs might contain banned substances. Before taking it, she brought the medicine to the doctor employed by the Canadian Pan-Am Games Committee and asked if the medicine she was safe from a competition point of view. The doctor assured her that it contained no banned substances. On her way back to the athletes’ village, Millie met another doctor she knew from her home town. She showed him the medicine and he said he was “pretty sure” that it did not contain any banned substances.

Immediately following her victory in the 1500 metres, Millie was tested for doping in accordance with standard procedure at the Pan-Am Games. Much to her horror, Millie tested positive for pseudo ephedrine, a banned substance. Even though the amount of the drug in her system was so small it could not possibly have enhanced her performance, game officials had no choice but to strip Millie and her relay teammates of their victories and their medals.

Millie’s reputation with the public was so outstandingly solid that it did not suffer much.

However, two of the companies with whom Millie had endorsement contracts terminated the contracts as allowed, and another company with whom Millie was about to sign backed out when the positive test results were announced. The loss of assured and potential future income to Millie was in the area of $250,000 annually over a period of at least three years.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Were either or both of the doctors negligent and if so, of what did their negligence consist? Was Millie more of a “neighbor” to the team doctor? Explain.
  2. Is it necessary for the doctor to know how important the correct answer was for Millie? Suppose that the doctor does not know about the endorsement contracts and he therefore only contemplates that the worst that will happen if he errs, is that Millie will lose her medals. Should that make a difference?
  3. Does the element of reliance distinguish the situation of the two doctors? That is, would it be more evident to the team doctor than the other doctor that Millie was relying on his expertise, and is that element of reliance important in determining liability?
  4. If you were the judge in the case between Millie and the team doctor:        
  1. Would you rule in favour of Millie or the doctor? Why?
  2. Would you award Millie damages for the old contracts that were cancelled?
  3. What about the contract that Millie was about to sign?